“Are you going to put me in your book?” asked a guy way back in my college days.
“Everybody’s going to end up in my book one way or another,” I quipped. “So you’d better be nice to me.” Truthfully, I couldn’t imagine him doing anything remarkable enough, good or bad, to end up in my book – other than to ask me that question.
These days, it’s the blog. Some fear it, and others, I suspect, would like to be featured in it. What they don’t realize is that my stories, rather than painting people in glamorous situations, tend to find the absurd and unflattering.
Most recently, I was laughing with a friend over the day she came home and entered her house only to detect a terrible smell. She stomped into the living room and looked behind the couch. Not there. She went upstairs and looked in the bedroom, the walk-in closet, the bathroom, and everywhere she turned, the smell seemed to be just ahead of her. At last she looked down and saw a smudge on the carpet, not in front of her but behind her. Horrified, she turned clear around and saw another spot a little further back, and that’s when she examined her shoe.
Apparently, she’d stepped in it on the way into the house and had now tracked it all throughout her home. The afternoon was spent shampooing carpets.
With sides shaking I said, “Now that’s blog worthy.”
“Use it with my blessing,” she laughed. “Just don’t use my name.”
Generally, I’m pretty careful about the inclusion of names unless I’ve been given permission. Most people want to protect their names because they are essential to our identity. When the Nazis wanted to dehumanize their prisoners, they stopped using names and instead assigned numbers stripping them of the one thing a person owns from birth – their given name.
The Bible places great importance on the reputation of a person’s name; so we should fight to protect it too.
“A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.” Proverbs 22:1a
“A good name is better than precious ointment.” Ecclesiastes 7:1a
Many people don’t want anyone to know if they’ve done something silly but will easily tell how they cheated on a test, lied to an employer, deceived their parents, or got a deal by being dishonest. Few stop to think about how they’re marking their character, tainting their name, and developing a stinky reputation which will not only follow but will precede them.
…as to have parents like mine.
My memory flies back to when I was barely more than a toddler. I see myself sitting up in bed with my parents standing over me. “My legs hurt so bad,” I told them, tears hanging on every word.
Mom sits beside me and explains how my bones are growing so fast that the rest of my body can’t keep up. She tells me about when she was a little girl and had growing pains too. Dad disappears and then returns with a pile of books for me to look at. Comforted, I’m asleep in minutes.
Years fly by and mom sits beside me. I nervously pick at my hospital gown while the doctor inserts an IV and begins to feed the anesthetic into my veins. When I wake up, she’s still there and takes me home – home to mom and dad’s house. I haven’t lived there in years, but it will always be home because that’s where my parents are.
Three days go by in varying stages of discomfort. They cater to me because my sinuses are packed with stints, tubes and gauze. As bedtime approaches on the third day, nausea sweeps over me. I close my eyes and concentrate on not throwing up. I can take none of the normal preventative measures (breathe through your nose and put your head down) because my nose is swollen and literally stuffed full of synthetic materials. I gulp air like a fish through my mouth and pray it won’t happen, but it does. I feel like I’m suffocating and panic sweeps over me.
Afterwards I stand in the bathroom doorway with tears in my eyes. They look at me sympathetically and cover me with blankets when I lie down on the couch. “I’ll sit up with her,” dad tells mom. “She shouldn’t be left alone.”
Lying so still, praying I won’t be sick again, I look at my dad in a recliner across the room. The hours tick by as slowly the churning subsides. You’re a very lucky girl, I tell myself. Memorize this moment! I close my eyes and try to block out the swimming stomach and concentrate on the image of my dad. 74 years old, and he sits up with me on the eve of my 42nd birthday because I am and always will be his little girl.
On Father’s Day the church bulletin will likely feature a picture of a man in a row boat with a young boy. They have caught a huge fish and with wild smiles are reeling it into the boat. On Mother’s Day a woman in a beautiful gown pushes her daughter on a wooden swing in the middle of a garden of lovely flowers.
These are the romance novels of parenting – not that these experiences don’t exist, but they are the one in a thousand moments mixed in with the mundane, the exhausting, and the weary times of parenting. Show me a dad in the middle of the night holding his daughter’s hair back while she throws up; show me a mom with an umbrella and gloves on the edge of a soccer field in a soaking rain; show me a parent, tired from a long day of work, pouring over homework with their children, and I’ll know you’ve found a real parent. I suppose it isn’t very glamorous, but good parents, those really extraordinary ones aren’t so full of glitz and glam. Instead they have grit and determination; and maybe they don’t always say what you want to hear; but they try; and you never doubt their love for you because they sit with you when you are at your lowest.
Every kid should be so lucky as to have parents like mine.
“Honey, forgot black socks.” Berkeley was standing in the hallway staring through the bathroom door at me while I brushed my teeth.
“Hmm?” I questioned him with a raised eyebrow and a mouth full of paste. I spit in the sink and restated. “What’s wrong sweetie? You forgot to pack dress socks?”
“Yes!” he answered, real distress in his voice. Berkeley, my 33 year old brother with Down Syndrome, is kind of a fashion bug. He’d spent the night at my house, and we were about to leave for church.
“Yes,” his voice short and taut as he pulled a boot off and a pant leg up to reveal a white sports sock. “Not right color,” he told me.
“Oh, it’s ok honey. Your boot will cover it up. Nobody will know, and you can wear black socks next week.”
He looked doubtful; but since I don’t keep a drawer full of men’s socks, he was stuck wearing the wrong color.
I knew those “not right color” socks would bug him all the way through church; and although not another soul would know, he’d be changing them THE moment he got home.
Later, about 30 seconds after I stopped by my parents house to drop Berkeley off, I heard his dresser drawer open. Yep, he was changing those socks, and a thought occurred to me, Wouldn’t it be nice if we treated sin in our lives like Berkeley and his white socks inside cowboy boots? Even when invisible to others, sin should bug and nag at our insides until we can’t wait to get rid of it.
“This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.” Acts 24:16
I couldn’t believe it. This was at least the third thermometer I’d bought that didn’t work properly. I’d had the forehead one, the ear one, and now I was back to the under the tongue kind. So annoying, I thought to myself as I stuffed it back into its box.
Instead of tossing this one, I recorded on the box that my normal body temperature read 96.1. (I’d taken my temp three times in a row, and it came out 96.1 each time.) That way, if I felt feverish, I’d know this was my starting point instead of 98.6. I can’t believe they charge $8 for these things and then they’re not even accurate, I grumbled to myself.
The thermometer found a new home in the medicine cabinet, and I pushed the frustration out of my mind – that is until my next appointment with the Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor. As the nurse recorded my blood pressure, pulse rate and temperature, she said, “You’re a cool one.”
“What?” I said out loud and then to myself, That’s kind of rude; I’m warm and bubbly.
“Your temperature, it’s low.”
“How low?” I asked.
“Really!?” I asked, my eyebrows shooting up in surprise.
“Yep, and it’s been consistently there the last three times you’ve been in.”
I laughed out loud and said, “I guess I should stop throwing thermometers away. I thought they were all broken.”
Over the next few days I did a little research on body temperatures; and by research, I mean I asked a couple clinicians who work with me, and I googled “low body temperature.” Seems you have to be in the 95 degree range before you’re in danger, and I’ve never dropped below 96, and occasionally I make it all the way up to 97.5. The problem clearly does not lie with the thermometer but with me.
Can’t believe I threw all those good thermometers away, I thought with irritation.
My condition is a little unusual; and so it did make sense for me to question the calibration of the thermometers. Unfortunately, circumstances rarely support the blame game.
As human beings, we are swift to adopt this kind of thinking: I’ll blame anybody or do whatever it takes so I won’t be held personally responsible for my own deeds. We see it first when Adam tells God that his stinker of a wife made him eat the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:12). Eve catches on quickly and passes the blame on to the beguiling ways of the serpent (Genesis 3:13).
In Exodus 32 Aaron won’t take responsibility for his sin in making a golden calf for the Israelites to worship. After all, the people asked him to do it.
In I Samuel 15:15 Saul directly disobeyed the commandment of God to utterly destroy everything of the Amalekites, but he wasted no time fabricating an excuse. “…the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord your God;”
And so it continues through the pages of the Bible – blame and excuses for every kind of disobedience.
At this point, I’m tempted to play my own blame card. At least I came by it honestly. Blaming has been in practice since the beginning of mankind.
But I am without excuse. I am a new creature. I am made new. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” I Corinthians 5:17
Fortunately God wants to forgive us if we’ll just own up to our sinfulness. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9
So the next time you want to blame someone, pause and consider, who is really at fault. And if I come to stay with you, please give me extra blankets.
When I woke up from surgery, I tried to figure out why the last thing I recalled was me telling the anesthesiologist that I’d had to put my horse down recently. Apparently, I didn’t think he’d understood the gravity of this statement because I remember emphatically telling him her age and finishing off with, “I’d had her almost my whole life, you know, almost my WHOLE life.”
“I can appreciate that,” he’d responded sympathetically. “I had to put my 12 year old dog down 2 days ago.”
At this point I leaned up on one elbow (the one that had already been tucked into some kind of a sheet pocket to keep me from moving), looked over my shoulder, and said with what I felt like was a lot of concern but probably sounded more like someone who was intoxicated, “I am SO sorry. That is REALLY HARD.”
A nurse was anxiously plucking at me and motioning for me to lie back down, and that was it. My next moment of consciousness would be of me sitting in a wheel chair and feeling very wobbly.
What I kept trying to figure out was why I’d told him about my horse in the first place. Didn’t seem like the conversation had led up to it; I’d just blurted it out.
Of course I’d spent a fair amount of time worrying about what I might say during surgery and for good cause.
Years ago when my brother Leigh was a teenager, he spent a couple summers working on my grandparents’ farm. In the course of his work, he managed to get a shard of metal stuck in his eye which required emergency surgery. As he came out of the operation, the nurses wouldn’t let our grandma in the room.
“You were swearing like a sailor,” they told Leigh, “and we didn’t want your sweet grandmother to hear those words.”
Profanity was absolutely forbidden in our family, and it seems like Leigh’s subconscious used this unique opportunity to try out every bad word he’d ever heard.
To add to my anxiety, a close friend called me up two days before my surgery and related this treasure. “I guess I was really chatty during that operation I had a few months ago,” she told me. “I dreamt I heard voices; so afterwards I asked the nurses about it. They said, ‘Oh, you talked the whole time.’”
“Uh oh,” I said.
“It seemed like it would be hard for the doctor to work on my face if I was talking,” she continued. “So I apologized to him at the follow-up appointment, and he turned beet red.”
“Oh dear,” I responded.
“I k-n-o-w,” she said. “When I had to have the next surgery, I worried about it for days.”
So as I anticipated my surgery, I wondered about words I’ve heard – words I’d never even wanted to hear? What if I started shouting them out?
I decided to employ one of my favorite Scripture verses, one that has helped me through a whole lot of situations. “Finally brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things.” Philippians 4:8
You know, you can’t go wrong using this strategy. When you hit your thumb with a hammer, rear end the car in front of you, or break your favorite dish, if you’ve only thought on true, noble, just, pure, lovely, favorable, virtuous and praiseworthy things, whatever comes out of your mouth is going to be ok.
I don’t understand what happens to a person’s brain when it is poisoned with anesthesia, but I’d like to think that my mind wanted to keep dwelling on a nice clean subject – even if it was dead animals.
As I watched him plunk down $2, I could hear my parents lecture on the injudiciousness of carnival games. “They’re all rigged; plus look at the junk you win. What a waste of money. Only foolish people play these games.”
At first I pretended he was chivalrous and thought I expected him to win something for me. “You don’t have to win anything for me,” I told him. “You don’t have to do this.”
“Oh, I’m great at darts,” he assured me, and then he slapped down another $2 and then another and another. I stopped counting at $20 and felt sick when I was pretty sure he was getting close to $40.
“You don’t have to win me anything,” the desperation in my voice had to be evident. That’s when I started praying, Please let him win something or run out of cash. Yes, let him run out of cash. I don’t care if I don’t get anything to eat tonight. Just let this end.
And then it did. In triumph he handed me my $40 prize – the ugliest and cheapest stuffed animal I’d ever seen. The dog’s fur felt like a towel I’d washed my car with and then forgotten on the front lawn for several days.
I tried to act pleased, I really did; but silently I was wondering what had made me think he was good looking. Nothing takes the shine off a cute face like idiotic behavior.
As we neared home, I took comfort in the fact that although my parents might be waiting up for me, they would have the decency to pretend they weren’t by staying in their bedroom. I hadn’t counted on my nosey sister, who had to get up at 4:00 the next morning but thought waiting up until 11:00 p.m. was worth the gamble in case something interesting happened at the end of my date.
Her bet usually paid off. Not long before I’d been introduced to a guy by someone I trusted, and 20 years later I still feel betrayed by that set-up. Amy loved the way that date ended. Early in the evening I had hinted I wanted to go home; then I outright asked him to take me home. At 9:00 when we pulled up to the house, he’d insisted he was too tired to drive to his apartment without caffeine and invited himself into my parents’ place for some coffee. No one asked him to sit down, but that didn’t seem to deter or bother him in the least. He drank cup after cup of horrible instant coffee while everyone stood around and stared at him. (I made the stuff as wretched as I knew how, but he was undaunted.) Finally, dad told the guy that we all wanted to go to bed and could he please go home, but I digress from the carnival date.
As we came up the driveway, I could see my sister lurking in the house by the front door. I had this wild idea of chucking the dog under the porch as I climbed the stairs thinking maybe he wouldn’t notice I’d suddenly lost the dog. However, my respect for his feelings told me that no matter how much I didn’t want the dog, I must finish the evening with grace.
I could already imagine the smirk on Amy’s face.
“Goodnight,” I said over my shoulder and then closed the door.
Amy stood there, grin firmly in place. “What do you have there?” she asked.
My eyes narrowed, and my right hand rose in the air. “So help me,” I said in a fierce whisper, “if you tell anybody about this dog before I get a chance to burn it – or tell anybody ever, and I mean anybody, I will never trust you with another secret as long as I live. But” and here my voice softened, “if you can manage to keep your mouth shut for three weeks, I’ll share secrets with you.”
I’m sure Amy imagined a hundred ways to break that story, but being cut off from all future sister secrets would be a most heinous consequence; so she never mentioned the dog until I told the story myself years later.
Keeping a secret is a noble and remarkably hard thing to do. Secrets are almost always interesting, but they can also be a burden to the person who knows them. They come in the form of sorrow weighing a heart down, a secret sin that has long been the source of crippling guilt, suspense while one waits for something good or terrible to happen, and once in a while a surprise so magnificent that having a coconspirator adds to the fun.
Regardless of the type of secret, once shared, it can never be taken back. A secret is only as safe as the holder of it, and revealing a confidence without permission destroys relationships.
If someone takes you into their confidence; or if like Amy, you stumble across something, be worthy of carrying that knowledge.
As the years rolled by, I didn’t have to threaten Amy any longer to make her keep my secrets. I just knew that she would, and having a confidant is a wonderful person to have in your life.
Proverbs 11:13 “A talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter.”
“Can I sit with you today?” my niece Zoe looked up at me with sparkling eyes.
“Um hmm, but I play the piano for this service. You’ll have to sit by yourself during the singing time.”
“That’s ok,” she replied. “I’ll go find us a spot.” I watched her dark, glossy head as she moved up to my usual spot near the front of the auditorium and reserved it for us.
I felt somebody’s arms fling around my waist and looked down at my other niece. “Want to sit with us?” I asked Amanda.
She grinned up at me and nodded her head.
So a short time later, I sat snugged in between my two nieces. Amanda is almost ten now – old enough to listen to the sermon her parents say, so she either has to take notes or just sit and listen. Zoe is still seven so, much to my distraction, gets the luxury of drawing. When she finished her first picture, she leaned up to my ear and whispered, “It’s a shoelace.” Her bubble figure had his hands wrapped around his head, a giant something stretching out from his shoe, and he was exclaiming, “O my! Agen!”
“Oh my! Again!” I quickly translated in my head. Oh, he’s upset because his shoe came untied. LOL! Kids think the littlest things are tragedies.
That’s when a twinge of guilt hit me. Sometimes adults think the littlest things are tragedies too.
In the scope of hardship, the small thing is the one that often tips you over the edge. For me, it wasn’t the endless months of pain in my tooth, the root canal, the four month sinus infection that followed, the broken crown, the death of my horse, another tooth that had inexplicably chosen this point in time to start throbbing that caused me to lose perspective earlier that afternoon, but the fact that I’d exceeded my cell phone minutes and now owed an additional $40.
Yes, I got super grumpy over my cell phone bill. I felt like my entire world was crashing in on me. Funny, because the phone was the one thing I could have controlled in the whole mess, and maybe that was why it made me so mad. I couldn’t blame anybody but myself.
All of the stuff leading up to the cell phone bill had worn me down, chipping away at my resolve to stay sane, be a good example, and have a Christ like attitude. Today, all of that flew out the window, and I looked skyward and said, Could you please give me a break here? I’m exhausted; I’m discouraged; I’m angry; I’m so, so tired! And then I stomped around the house and tried to think of someone else to blame for why I had exceeded the limit.
My problem: I thought I could be the perfect Christian on my own. I would be the good example. I would show people what a wonderful person I was by taking it all in stride, but seldom did I remember to ask for God’s assistance. As I pondered the situation, I realized that even Jesus, in the Lord’s Prayer, requested God’s help to deal with testing. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…” Matthew 6:13a Giving us an example to follow, He prayed for help during the difficult times that must surely come into each life.
God does not promise us a life free from pain, fear, and trials; but He does promise to never leave us or forsake us. Even when we deserve to be abandoned, He is still there “So that we can boldly say, the Lord is my helper…” Hebrews 13:5-6